New VP for Development to shake up UD donations

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Dr. Ashton Ellis, the new Vice President for Development and University Relations. Photo courtesy of Dr. Ashton Ellis.

In Dec. 2023, Dr. Ashton Ellis was appointed Vice President for Development and University Relations at the University of Dallas. Hailing from Hillsdale College where he had eight and a half years of experience in annual gifts, major gifts and estate planning, Ellis has taken on the mantle of former VP Kris Munoz-Vetter who resigned last year.

Ellis, both an experienced consultant and part-time professor, holds a Ph.D. in political philosophy and American government from Claremont Graduate University, a JD from Pepperdine University and a master’s and bachelor’s degree in public policy from Baylor University.

During his time at Hillsdale, Ellis worked on and later led one of the teams that helped to increase contributions dramatically both in terms of gross amount and percentage of Hillsdale’s total revenue. According to their 2015 Form 990, a financial report submitted by not-for-profit and nonprofit organizations, contributions accounted for 59.2% of Hillsdale’s total revenue — $118,585,719 in gross numbers. However, in 2022 that number had over doubled to $271,985,519 — 74.3% of their total revenue.

Compare those figures to UD, whose contributions in 2022 comprised a gross $11,424,722, 9.7% of the total revenue.

UD currently focuses on gifts of discretionary income — that is, donations given to the university from donors’ surplus after they have paid their necessary expenses. However, Ellis brings experience in managing non-cash gifts, such as stock, real estate and business partnerships.

“What my last job did, and what I would like to help UD get to, is major gifts of assets, because that represents a much higher percentage of someone’s net worth,” said Ellis. “Those kinds of gifts are typically going to be much more attractive because of the tax implications — they reduce their taxes substantially when they make those kinds of gifts.”

Asset donations aid the university through a gain in capital and donors benefit through tax breaks since universities such as UD and Hillsdale are classified as 501.c.3 charities. Furthermore, donations made in this way can provide the donors with a steady source of income. However, more time is required to reap the benefits from these contributions, so accumulating asset donations is a medium to long term goal.

For this reason, selecting someone who would hold the VP position for the foreseeable future was a primary consideration in the selection process. Dr. Jonathan Sanford, president, invited the Office of Development and Off ice of Advancement Services to actively participate in the selection process for the new VP, including John Magee, director of development.

“One of the things we were looking at is someone who can be in this position for the amount of time it is going to take to further the university’s mission. We needed someone with energy — number one — and the outlook and the experience,” said Magee.

Although UD does not have much experience with this form of asset management, Magee believes that Ellis brings the experience needed to initiate this model.

“It’s not a model UD has had in practice for the most part, but I think it’s something, that looking to the future, we have to be very cognizant of because the landscape is changing,” said Magee. “It’s a very different model than what we’ve been used to, but I think [Ellis] is going to bring a wealth of knowledge. If anyone’s going to lead us in that direction, he’s the best man to do it.”

Not only does Magee believe Ellis has the experience needed for the job, but he also fits within the larger UD mission. “He’s a great mission fit,” said Magee.

“At its core, fundraising is a team sport that relies primarily on visionary leadership at places like Hillsdale and UD,” said Ellis. “The main reason I’m at UD is because I see in Dr. Sanford the same kind of visionary leadership I enjoyed at my last employer.”

Ellis is poised to lead UD into a new era of philanthropic growth with a more robust fundraising model that will support the university’s mission and work hand-in-hand with Sanford’s vision for the university.

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